11 July 2011

Review: Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a NationPlaying the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thrilling, inspiring account of one of the greatest charm offensives in history—Nelson Mandela’s decade-long campaign to unite his country, beginning in his jail cell and ending with a rugby tournament.

'Playing the Enemy' is one of those non-fiction pieces that you scarcely would have allowed yourself to believe to be true, lest you know it was. It is also one of these texts that you pick up, completely prepared for on subject, and soon you are delivered something that you did not expect.

The novel follows the famous south African Nelson Mandela, president, human rights activist and, as accordance to the subject matter of the book, a dedicated rugby fan. The first half, if not more, of the book takes the reader on a tour of his life as well as the lives of millions of South African residents as they lived during the time before, during, and have human rights reform in the once turmoil African nation. It tells of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, his distinct social power and abilities, and how they eventually led to his release from prison.

There is also significant mention and accounts of the social and physical abuse suffered by the blacks under the powerful white government, and how Mr. Mandela was able to persuade them to not retaliate with anger, but with such emotions as love and forgiveness.

During this telling, the book is punctuated with 'where-is-he-now' points concerning the life of Francois Pinaar, who would become the captain of the South American rugby team during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, of which the book speaks.

Finally, the book turns to the concern of rugby. (I have my single grievance with this book because it was supposed to be about 'Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, but over half of the book seemed a pre-requisite to this idea. Although it was not as if the first section of the book was not informative. On the contrary, it was quite intriguing!)

Watching the nation of South Africa change was awe-inspiring. From a government headed entirely by whites to a country governed by President Mandela, a black former-prisoner, was a true testament to human forgiveness. The way he dealt with the people around him, of all races and of all intentions, may have been the deciding factor in the fate of his country. As was his attention to rugby, at first shunned by the black population for its connection to the white rule, it was now something that he could use to pull together his people with. All of his people.

The South African rugby team prevailed in the world cup, thanks to the support of Mr. Mandela, and 43 million South Africans. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is a fantastic novel for all those who want to not only read more on the history of South Africa, the amazing and inspiring life of Mr. Nelson Mandela, but also for those who want a read a book with surprising real events and an ending that will leave you feeling hopeful for the future.

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  1. How easy was the book to read? Do you think it would hold the attention of high school students?

  2. For me, this book was very easy to read. It kept my attention, flowed nicely, and it was increasingly interesting and swelling with history.

    As far as HS students, I personally think the novel would be a great addition to a curriculum. It's a very powerful book that's driven by emotion, and I think that's key to keeping teenagers engaged in assigned reading.

    If you are considering this for a class and want a more in-depth answer, please feel free to e-mail me. I tutor English/History students, so this is something I could go on about! :)


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